A holiday meal, with family and friends gathered together, is the perfect place for engaging children in conversation.  Families can talk about the rituals and traditions that accompany the holiday and ask each child to describe their favorite parts of the holiday or what they remember from last year’s celebration.  Cooking for a holiday meal is also the perfect time for youngsters to talk, question, measure, count, and use their senses.  A kitchen full of shapes, colors and smells (all edible!) creates the perfect occasion for parents and children to interact.  Including young children in meal preparation and in dinner table conversation helps to stimulate children’s senses and broaden their vocabulary and social skills.
Start by asking your child questions about the food:
  • How does the food taste?
  • How does it smell?
  • How does it feel?
  • Is it salty/sweet/sour/spicy?
  • What color is it?
To make the activity a little more challenging, you can encourage your child to describe the foods with more than one word.  For instance “the bread is soft and white”.
Different foods also provide the opportunity for you to help your child make comparisons.  For instance you can ask “which is bigger, the apple or the pumpkin?”  Show your child that the squash is yellow just like the corn, and have her try to find other yellow things on the table, or find two items of another color.
The holidays are also a good opportunity to practice early math skills.  You can help your child count how many apples are in the basket, how many chairs are at the table, or how many carrots he ate.  
The opportunity for social stimulation during the holidays is endless. When real food is not on the table, kitchen and food play sets can work just as well for generating conversations and activities.
The Parent-Child Home Program Recommends:
Cutting Food Box Melissa and Doug
This set is a great way to build hand-eye coordination, small motor skills; and color and shape recognition. It includes 8 pieces of wooden food, including watermelon, bread and vegetables, which can be “cut” with a child safe play knife.  Children will enjoy cutting the food as well as reassembling it. $19.95
Mini Meals Picnic Combo Fisher Price
This picnic set includes an orange which “peels” and opens up to reveal two sections, a banana, an apple, a jar of jam, and a piece of bread, which when rubbed by the magic knife, is magically covered with jam!  This is another great toy for hand-eye coordination and small motor skills.  Parents and children can play pretend together. $9.50
Food for Thought by Joost Elffers and Saxton Freymann
This book is full of activities for parents and young children. Through the authors’ use of brightly colored, clever and adorable food sculptures (cauliflower sheep, pepper people, smiling oranges), young children can explore letters, numbers, shapes, colors, and opposites. (Arthur A. Levine Books)
Clifford’s Thanksgiving Visit by Norman Bridwell
In this book, the beloved Big Red Dog sets out to visit his mother in the city for Thanksgiving.  Along the way he meets with some unexpected obstacles but overcomes them to spend a great holiday amongst food, friends and family. (Scholastic)